By Jon Rothstein
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– The decision Wednesday night surrounding Shabazz Muhammad will ultimately affect whether or not UCLA has a chance to be an NCAA Tournament team next season. With Muhammad, the Bruins have enough fire power to match up with just about anyone they’ll play. Without him, there are still serious question marks regarding this team heading into next season. Wednesday is going to be a tense day in Westwood.
– Syracuse fans shouldn’t fret if they don’t get a commitment from Nerlens Noel later today because the Orange don’t simply don’t need him. Without Noel, Jim Boeheim can still enter next season with a starting front court of C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas and bring Baye Moussa Keita and stud freshman Dajuan Coleman off the bench. That’s more than enough talent up front for Syracuse to be a Top Five team nationally at the start of next season.
– It’s real exciting to see a grinder like Jim Ferry get an opportunity at Duquesne. Ferry built LIU from the ground up and left the Blackbirds after two consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. He’ll have his work cut out for him with the Dukes but should get five or six years to compete with the better teams in the Atlantic-10. Newly minted LIU coach Jack Perri should the Blackbirds in the mix for a third straight NEC title next year along with Robert Morris and Wagner.
– B.J. Young’s decision to return to school immediately makes Arkansas a threat to take a massive leap in the SEC standings next season. The Razorbacks will welcome back a healthy Marshawn Powell who missed the majority of last season with an injury plus burgeoning sophomores Ky Madden and Hunter Mickelson along with sophomore guards Mardracus Wade and Rickey Scott.
– Missouri still seems like the team to watch in the Alex Oriakhi sweepstakes. The Tigers can offer the former UCONN big man a chance to play immediately as he’d instantly start for Frank Haith up front next to Laurence Bowers plus the chance to be reunited with Phil Pressey, who Oriakhi knows from his AAU days. Missouri technically isn’t a member of the SEC until July 1st so they could still take Oriakhi and apply for a waiver that he could play immediately before they ever officially join the conference. A lot of people are sleeping on Haith’s team but they have the tools to be a factor next season. Pressey and Michael Dixon will be one of the better back courts in the country and the Tigers have three talented transfers in Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Earnest Ross (Auburn), and Jabari Brown (Oregon), who will be eligible in the second semester.
– No coach has been giddier about his team’s prospects for next year since the season ended than South Florida’s Stan Heath. The Bulls return a strong core of parts from this year’s NCAA Tournament squad including steady point guard Anthony Collins, versatile wing Jawanza Poland, and two pieces up front in Victor Rudd and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick. South Floirda also adds JUCO shooting guard Musa Abdul Aleem, and JUCO big man Waverly Austin. Heath is also high on incoming freshman Javontae Hawkins as well as the idea of playing Rudd in spurts at power forward. “This will be my best team at South Florida,” Heath told me in New Orleans. We’re looking forward to finding out.
– Marquette is emerging as a potential landing spot for Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett. Lockett, who has one year of eligibility remaining would be an instant contributor to the Golden Eagles and could be eligible to play immediately due to a family illness.
– Look for Mick Cronin and Cincinnati to get back to playing 10-11 guys next year in their rotation. Despite reaching the Sweet 16 during the past season, Cronin shortened his rotation and never was able to press the way he did two years ago or when he coached at Murray State. Look for next year’s squad to feature more depth highlighted by two players who red shirted this past season in forwards Shaquille Thomas and Octavious Ellis.
– We’re hearing that Cincinnati has emerged as the favorite for Our Savior New American big man Chris Obekpa. The 6-foot-9 shot blocking machine is also considering St. John’s and Oregon. Many scouts have compared Obekpa to NBA star Tyrus Thomas. The 2012 center would likely start immediately for the Bearcats next season in place of the graduated Yancy Gates.
– Some dates to keep an eye on for the New York area basketball fan — Thursday April 26th, Met Writers Dinner at the Tarrytown Marriott — Friday April 27th, Brooklyn Old Timers Dinner at Bishop Ford High School — Tuesday May 8th, Winged Foot Dinner at the New York Athletic Club.
Where do you think Muhammad and Noel will go? Sound off in the comments below…